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Buying an airgun

PUBLISHED: 16:12 27 October 2011 | UPDATED: 16:15 27 October 2011

Gun Smart

Gun Smart

Buying an airgun is a big investment, but how do you make the right choice? Matt Clark helps you make your decision.

As editor of Air Gunner there's one question Im asked more than any other: What airgun should I buy? This is a sensible question to ask, but a difficult one to answer.

Its like asking someone, "What are the best shoes to buy?" Im sure the ladies will relate to this analogy. You can explain what brands are considered most prestigious, but as to what shoe you should buy depends on what you want the shoes for. You wouldnt buy a trainer for formal occasions or try and do a marathon in a brogue. And so it is with airguns. The first thing you need to decide is what you are going to use your airgun for.

If you want to hunt, then a robust springer, such as a Weihrauch HW97KT or Air Arms Pro Sport would be ideal. You could also go down the pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) route and get a Daystate Huntsman, or BSA R-10. PCPs are often multi-shot, which means you dont have to fumble for pellets in the dark with dirty hands to reload. They also have the advantage of having less recoil than a springer, which helps the shooter be more accurate. Having said that, the draw back with PCPs is that you have to buy a pump or divers bottle to re-charge the gun with air. This can add a 100 plus to the initial outlay of your combo, but once you have got a pump or cylinder, you will have it for a very long time. An alternative to a PCP and springer is a gas-ram, such as the Theoben Evolution. This uses a gas strut, similar to the ones you get on your car boot, instead of a spring. An advantage to this over a springer is that you can leave it cocked for a long time and not lose power. CO2 powered air rifles can also be used for hunting, but in cold weather they lose some of their power, making them less reliable for general purpose hunting.

The Right Calibre

Calibre is also important when deciding what airgun you are going to buy. Many of us will be familiar with the .177 or .22 debate. Generally speaking the .177 is good for target hooting because of its flatter trajectory and .22 is good for hunting because the pellet is slower and heavier and transports more nergy to the quarry, making sure its a clean kill. You can use either calibre for hunting but if you are an inexperienced shot it is best to go for .22 because it ensures a clean kill. Also for rat blatting .22 is a better option because rats are tough critters. Of course there is .20 calibre which is a good compromise, but pellets are sometimes difficult to source. Theres also .25, but for use in airguns sub 12ft.lb. the trajectory is very loopy, only making them good for close range hunting.

Some shooters don't want to hunt, but want to take part in the ourgeoning sport of Hunter Field Target (HFT). For this type of shooting you can use any airgun, springer, PCP or even CO2. Most prefer to shoot with PCPs because their recoilless action makes them easier to shoot. Although springers have their own section, and to be a good spring shot is a real accomplishment.

You will notice that a lot of PCPs have single shot trays to convert the rifle from a multi-shot to a single shot. This is because some shooters reckon single shots are more accurate. Pellets can become damaged when fed into the breech from a magazine, which makes them less accurate. Also its generally safer to shoot just one pellet at a time and know that the rifle is unloaded when taking it to the next target. The sort of airguns used for HFT vary from Daystate, Air Arms, BSA and Weihrauch that are general purpose/hunting rifles to more target specific airguns such as Steyr.

Many of us like plinking that is shooting tin cans, knock-over targets, paper target, or anything really. Some people even shoot mints for fun because they explode when hit. Again,ny airgun can be used for this. Most prefer to shoot springers with open sights, such as SMK XS20, Crosman Phantom, BSA Meteor, Gamo Shadow or Weihrauch HW25.

Budget Constraints

But choosing the right airgun doesnt just boil down to what you want to do with it. Most of us have budget constraints. The old advice that you get what you pay for holds true. Usually the more you pay for an airgun, the higher the quality. That said, if you cant afford to spend much there are plenty of affordable airguns out there that will give reliable service for many years and give you plenty of enjoyment. What Im saying is that in terms of build quality more expensive airguns from manufacturers like Air Arms, Daystate, Weihrauch and Theoben will be of a similar build quality to each other. Of course many of us have a brand bias, either formed from the airguns we shot as teenagers, or what we read about in magazine like Air Gunner and Airgun World and thats not a bad thing. If you are confident in the airgun you shoot, then you will generally shoot better with it.

A Fitting Gun

A much over-looked point when buying an airgun is whether it fits the shooter. Little attention is paid to the fit of a gun and it is not well understood by a lot of shooters. Since we dont usually have much choice between the stock configurations we accept the air rifle as it was built. Yes, we sometimes get to choose between a thumbhole or sporter stock and some have adjustable stocks so that you can raise the comb, or cheek piece of the rifle and adjust the length of 'trigger pull'. This is the measurement from the centre of the butt to the centre of the trigger. It is important because too long a pull will force the shooter to move his cheek up the comb to compensate, which makes the shooter uncomfortable. The butt will also catch on the clothes of the shooter when he or she attempts to mount the gun to take a quick shot. Too short a pull will be uncomfortable, forcing the shooter to move their cheek back from the breech in order to line his eye up correctly.

There is a whole science about gun fit and I will deal with it in a separate feature. But you dont need to understand the theory behind gun fit to know when a rifle fits you. A rule of thumb to find the right trigger pull is to put the butt of the rifle into the crook of your arm and see whether your trigger finger comes easily to the trigger. Also try mounting the rifle in your shoulder when you are in the gunshop. To use my shoe analogy, the gun should feel right. If you have to move your cheek, then the gun doesnt fit. If you are straining to reach the trigger, then the gun doesnt fit.

On the whole I find German manufacturers make larger stocks than the British, but the only way to find out if a gun fits is to try it. If you feel comfortable with the rifle, then you will shoot better with it.

A Case Study

I am so lucky to have the job I have. Getting to test every new gun on the market is a privilege that most people dont have. But when it comes to choosing a rifle for myself, I still have a set criteria, that I have described above.

A little while ago I bought an Air Arms S410. I will explain what led me to buy that rifle and why it was the right choice for me. Dont go thinking I am saying an S410 is the only rifle to buy. In the UK we have a great choice of airguns and you must choose the one that suits you and your purpose.

First of all I was limited by budget. I had around 600 saved and might be able to stretch to 700, but no further. That put me in a well populated hunting ground as far as air rifles are concerned. I decided that I wanted a PCP multi-shot. I had several springers and a single shot PCP, which meant I already owned a pump and would just have to layout on the rifle.

The PCP I already had was an Air Arms S200. It was Czech made under the supervision of Air Arms and had served me well. However, the rifle was a little small for me. Because I had tried and tested Air Arms, they were one of the contenders. Other contenders included the Daystate, BSA, Theoben and Weihrauch.

I liked the classic look of the Daystate Huntsman. I knew it had a good mechanical trigger and was from a reputable company. But when I came to try it out it just felt too small for my six foot plus frame. The Daystate MK4 fitted me perfectly, but my budget wouldnt allow that. One day one day!

Next up was the Weihrauch HW100. It was slightly over my budget, but I could afford it if I went for broke. The stock fitted me perfectly and it has a side-lever, which means that you will never double load it. It also had German solidity and engineering in its favour. However, its stock looked a little heavy to me and I really wanted a bolt action rifle, even though the sidelever has the mechanical advantage. Theres something about cycling a bolt that I like. Anyway, I want an HW90 gas ram at some point, so I would be better buying a Weihrauch then because they and Theoben are the only manufacturers that make that type of airgun.

So next up was the BSA Scorpion T-10. A very modern looking rifle, with a nice bolt action. However, I felt the stock as slightly on the small side. Still, it made my short list.

And then there was Air Arms. Like BSA it was a tried and tested brand. In my price range was the S410. The sidelever S510 had not come on the market then, but as I said I wanted a bolt action rifle. I tried the S410 and it fitted me perfectly, felt well balanced and had the classic look I was after. It was also within my budget. After a short deliberation I thought I would remain loyal to Air Arms, so that was my choice. However, next decision was the calibre.

What I wanted the rifle for was rabbit shooting - because my mothers garden seems to be over run with them - and occasional plinking. For rabbit I prefer .22 just because it has a bit more stopping power, although I have shot rabbits with .177 as well. I also prefer .22 pellets because they are easier to handle with my big clumsy fingers.

So a .22 Air Arms S410 it was then. I duly paid my money and took my rifle home to fit a scope on it. I put a 3 9 x 40 BSA Essencial scope on it. If I didnt buy a rifle from BSA at least I could buy a scope. This is an affordable piece of kit that works well. The magnification is ideal for most airgun shooting.

Another thing I liked about the Air Arms was its instruction booklet. I know being a man I shouldnt read instruction manuals, but I always like everything explained to me.

After familiarising myself with my new airgun and zeroing it I took it into the field with a friend. She was a land agent and some of the farmers' crops on her land were being ravaged by wood pigeons. She went out with her 20-bore shotgun and I went with the S410, the theory being that I would take the pigeons that landed and she
would get them as they flew away. Well, I got one pigeon before it became too dark to shoot and my new airgun had been blooded.

I am not saying that you should buy an Air Arms S410. For some it would be the wrong rifle. I was pleased with my purchase and felt that I had made a good choice, but like anything you are obsessed with there is always room for another rifle. Also new models keep coming on the market.

What shall it be? Should I go for a Daystate MK4 iS, Weihrauch HW90, BSA Super TenI am sure this is what my girlfriend must feel about shoes you can never have too many. Part of the pleasure of buying an airgun, or anything big in life is the anticipation, so continue reading Air Gunner and formulate the desire for your next rifle. Thank goodness, there are no magazines devoted to shoes.

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